Younger v. Harris

PETITIONER: Evelle J. Younger, District Attorney of Los Angeles County
RESPONDENT: John Harris, Jr. et al.
LOCATION: City of Los Angeles

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 401 US 37 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 01, 1969
REARGUED: Apr 29, 1970 / Nov 16, 1970
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1971

Facts of the case

California's Criminal Syndicalism Act prohibited advocating, teaching, or aiding the commission of a crime or unlawful acts of violence or terrorism. John Harris, a socialist, was indicted under the statute. Harris claimed the law had a "chilling effect" on his freedom of speech. After a California state court upheld Harris' conviction, a federal district court struck down the Act because of vagueness and overbreadth.


Did the federal court, in stopping a prosecution in a state court, violate constitutional principles of federalism?

Media for Younger v. Harris

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - November 16, 1970 in Younger v. Harris
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 01, 1969 in Younger v. Harris

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - April 29, 1970 in Younger v. Harris

Warren E. Burger:

First case on argument today is number 4, Younger against Harris?

Mr. Harris, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Albert W. Harris, Jr.:

Thank you Mr. Chief Justice.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is an appeal from an order of the three-judge court in the Central District in California declaring the California Criminal Syndicalism Act unconstitutional on its face and then all of its parts.

In enjoining the District Attorney of Los Angeles County from enforcing and continuing the prosecution of a man named John Harris, Jr. who was one of the plaintiffs in this case.

The appeal is brought to District Attorney and represented here by the Attorney General of California.

The complaint in the District Court was filed by John Harris, Jr. following his indictment upon two counts of violating subsection 3 of the Syndicalism Act.

He claimed in the complaint by reason of his prosecution and the presence of the Act.

He was inhibited in the exercise of his First Amendment rights.

There were three other plaintiffs who joined in the lawsuit, Jim Dan and Hirsch both alleged that they were members of the Progressive Labor Party, a party that advocated political and industrial change and they felt inhibited in attempting through peaceful and non-violent means to advocate Progressive Labor Party programs in light of the presence of the statute in the prosecution of John Harris.

The fourth plaintiff was a man named Broslawsky who alleged that he was a teacher of history and he taught subjects in which Marxism wasn't involved and he was uncertain what he could say about these matters by reason of the presence of the Act on the books and by reason to prosecution of John Harris.

Potter Stewart:

Where did he teach these subjects?

Albert W. Harris, Jr.:

At a state college -- San Fernando State College, I believe.

Potter Stewart:

Was it a regular part of the curriculum of the course he taught?

Well, it's all contained in about one paragraph in the complaint and that's all we know about it.

That's all you know.

Thank you.

Albert W. Harris, Jr.:

The plaintiffs alleged that there was irreparable injury.

He alleged no specific facts in support of this claim except the conclusion that they felt inhibited and were prevented from exercising fundamental constitutional rights.

The District Court held that it had jurisdiction to pass on all phases of the Act not only the Section under which John Harris was prosecuted.

It held that it should not abstain in light of Dombrowski and Zwickler against Koota.

The District Court went on to hold the Act unconstitutional on its face and all of its provisions were no mention whatever of any California case which it -- that it construed any of the sections of the Act.

Finally, the Court issued an injunction against the pending prosecution of John Harris.

The appellant submits here that the District Court had no jurisdiction whatever in respect to the claims of Dan, Hirsch, and Broslawsky that is the three plaintiffs who have not been indicted.

Byron R. White:

I think perhaps it was made against Broslawsky?

Albert W. Harris, Jr.:

There is no such allegation Your Honor in the complaint and in fact the District Court said in the opinion that it did not believe that the plaintiffs stood in any danger or whatever of prosecution for the conduct that they alleged, that they had engaged in.

In addition, in connection with the jurisdictional question we contend that the court had no jurisdiction to pass on a ninth provision except Section 3.

The Section under which John Harris was charged and upon which he was awaiting trial.

Secondly, as to Section 3, the District Court should have abstained.